by Lauren Swanger, holistic health enthusiast and research journalist
Balance. Energy. Simplicity. Calmness. Oneness. Relaxation. Wholeness. Harmony.
Any of these words could describe the effect the application of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) can have on the typical stressed-out American. TCM is rooted in a distinctive, inclusive and systematic theoretical structure and is based on the flow of energy, or chi, throughout the body. Chi flows through the body via pathways which are called meridians. There are a total of twelve meridians in the body which correspond to specific organs, organ systems, or functions. This flow of energy is responsible for controlling the functions of the human mind and body. An imbalance of chi causes illness and a correction to this flow restores the body’s balances, and therefore, health.
TCM is based, in part, on the Taoist belief that humankind is part of the universe and we, and the universe, are interconnected. Chinese medicine teaches us that what happens to one part of the body has an influence on all other parts of the body. Similarly, the mind and body are viewed as being one where the mind influences the body and the body influences the mind. Because Chinese medical philosophy and theory make up the base of TCM, many of these concepts have no true counterpart in Western medicine. TCM is a systematic and holistic approach that links the mind, body, and spirit to identify imbalance in the body.
There are eight “branches” of Chinese medicine. This system of practice coordinates a variety of therapeutic techniques: meditation, qigong or breathing exercises, nutrition, tai chi or mindful movement, Fengshui, herbology, bodywork and acupuncture. A practitioner will systematically move through these branches with you, depending upon your unique needs, in order to restore your health.
So, what is meditation?
At its most basic level, meditation is simply a practice in mindfulness. Mindfulness is a conscious effort to be aware of yourself, your breathing, and your thoughts. In any given day, you will be inundated with information; television, the internet, billboards, your Twitter feed, even the cashier at the grocery store. It’s unavoidable and unstoppable. Unbidden, thoughts come up as you put out the light at night. Sleep eludes you as you try and keep up with all of the things you need to remember to do. Quieting the mind, through meditation, lessens the effects all of these thoughts can have on your physical and emotional state. Meditation costs nothing, is easy to do, and can work wonders for the overstressed mind and body.
Take a moment to close your eyes and focus on what is happening at this very moment. When thoughts arise about something that has happened in the past or may happen in the future, notice them but gently bring your mind back to the present. Mindfulness is an emotionally neutral state. Experiences are not judged as either good or bad – they simply are. Notice them as you would a cloud passing by, but give them no more weight than that. Accept whatever it is that arises, let it pass through you, then let it go. It no longer exists.
There is no right way or wrong way to practice meditation. There are not set time limits for it either. You can meditate with your eyes open or closed, which ever is easiest for you. You can use mental imagery, play music softly in the background, or even chant a word or mantra. You can spend as much or as little time meditating as you need. The key is to be consistent in your practice. Over time, you will begin to notice that you are less stressed and angry, that you have more energy, your mind is clearer, you are sleeping better, you have lower blood pressure, and you experience an overall feeling of peace and contentment. That’s a pretty terrific return on a small daily investment!